Hey hey, a quick note! This is really just a travel blog but seeing as how this is a question I receive quite regularly, I wanted to lay out my own personal answer.
This is one of those questions I asked myself a hundred million times before I first set foot in Israel. At the time, I really didn’t understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I knew of vague words like “terrorism” and “gaza” and “hamas” but didn’t fully understand what it all meant. Plus, my first visit came just a few short months after the famous flotilla incident in 2010. I’d read all the news, sure, but my geography was really out of perspective.
It wasn’t until I crossed the border into Israel the very first time (by foot at the Taba-Eilat crossing) that I realized what this tiny Middle Eastern country is truly like. That first visit came after a month backpacking Egypt (pre-Arab Spring) and the clean, modern buildings of Eilat and flashy beach resorts were like a shock of fresh air and familiarity.
To be honest, Israel is nothing like I’d ever previously imagined. Since my first visit in 2010 I’ve returned on multiple occasions. Each visit has been different than the last and to give you a better sense of my perspective (before I answer the title questions), I’ll outline my visits:
- July to October 2010
My very first visit, this was the time I fell in love with Israel. So much so that I was able to find a way to stay. I took an internship/volunteer opportunity at an Israeli-Palestinian peace organization, the Geneva Initiative, during this period and spent the bulk of my stay in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. But I also visited plenty of cities throughout Israel, from the south to the north, and one extremely memorable tour in the West Bank.
- February 2011
During this return trip, I stayed put mostly in Jerusalem, though also visited some cities and areas in the West Bank.
- January 2013
I took a big break from Israel but returned in January to explore even more of the country: Nazareth, Jerusalem, the Negev Desert and some day trips throughout the West Bank to Nablus, Ramallah and Hebron.
- June 2013
That was this visit. During this trip to Israel, I stayed entirely in Tel Aviv enjoying all of its hedonistic offerings!
So, the big question.
Is Israel Safe?
In my experience, yes. Following last year’s brief autumn war with Gaza, I visited Israel less than two months after the ceasefire. Any remnants of the rockets that flew over the country earlier were no longer visible. My friends in Tel Aviv spoke of a few scary incidents when bomb sirens had gone off (though none landed). But other than that, life appeared to move on quickly for the Israelis—for better or worse. And while visiting the West Bank of the Palestinian Territories (now Palestine) is often very safe and easy for tourists, I’m sure these skirmishes make life very difficult for the locals. From a tourist perspective, though, it’s a different story. And the skirmishes and wars almost definitely hurt tourism in the industry, which is truly unfortunate considering the incredible sights to see both in Israel and in Palestine.
So even with news about renewed skirmishes in the Golan Heights and political games with Syria and the UN, I’m never really worried about traveling back to Israel. Or to Palestine for that matter. As a tourist in the Middle East, you often have more rights and freedom than the locals. In Israel and Palestine, for example, Israelis aren’t allowed to enter some areas of Palestine, while Palestinians have many restricted rights in areas of Israel. With my American passport, though, I’m often able to pass checkpoints without much hassle.
Now: before the comments turn into a mess of pro-Israel and pro-Palestine remarks, I just want to say this…I’m very much on the left of the political issues affecting Israel and Palestine. In all my travels to the region, my visits to Israeli and to Palestinian cities have always been safe and I’ve never felt threatened. Saying that, however, there are many instances where I’ve felt uncomfortable.
When I’ve felt unsafe in Israel & Palestine
Holding hands with a boy in some parts of Jerusalem, I didn’t feel safe. But kissing a boy on the beach in Tel Aviv felt much more safe. Walking down the street in Nablus, I felt perfectly safe and enjoyed the many (countless, really) friendly interactions with shop owners. And yet sometimes in south Tel Aviv, walking through the area around the Central Bus Station, I just felt…uncomfortable. (This is the area historically with many refugees and immigrants.) And while seeing lots of young Israelis walking around with guns may be comforting for some, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) that you might spot anywhere (from wearing flip-flops on the beach to sitting next to you on the bus), make me very uncomfortable. I don’t like guns.
From the “terrorism” perspective, I think Israel and the West Bank of Palestine are still pretty safe to visit. Though if the country and its neighbors were involved in some sort of missile-swapping, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t travel there during the same period. But these skirmishes are rare and often only seem to last days before the United Nations or other international observers step and and get everyone to chill out (often after far too many casualties). As always, the travel warnings from the USA and the UK are good places to check current travel safety precautions:
- USA State Department current travel warnings
- UK Foreign Office travel advice
I agree with everything. When I was in Israel and Palestine I didn’t feel unsafe, but definitely uncomfortable with all those weapons in the streets… I don’t like guns either. :(
Even if there was nothing mayor going on during my visit (such as the autumn 2012 attacks), all the military, machine guns, military bases and “unidentified flying objects” were a constant reminder that there was something in the air and I didn’t like the feeling.
That said, I felt safe all the time and I would definitely go back!
Thanks for sharing your perspective Giulia!
I used to assume Israel was unsafe too but after hearing the stories of many friends who have visited, I realized I was probably just being influenced by the media. I would love to go there someday.
It’s crazy (and frightening) how often media doesn’t accurately reflect reality.
Israel has been considered as one of the most dangerous country because of the terrorists. But, when it comes to attraction and history it is one of the best and may tourist would love to visit this country.
Thanks for sharing this topic about Israel. I know a lot of people from Holland who visited Israel and never felt unsafe. I guess it’s pretty safe if you stick to the normal tourist areas and follow some basic safety tips and of course, like said, check the situation with you countries department of foreign affairs.
I hope to visit Israel one! Nice blog by the way. I just started mine and I will keep following you!
As a tourist, Israel just seems to be as safe as most other destinations. Be aware of the current political climate and that should be a good way to determine how safe/comfortable it would be there during a trip.
Thanks for the blog compliment, Bastiaan. Good luck with yours! Will check it out…
I’ve often thought that I’d never see Israel because of the ongoing conflicts during the years and because of my feelings over who I’m in favour for, however, I think the best way to learn may be to visit the country myself to really formulate an opinion off the back of meeting the locals and hearing stories about their lives and what they’ve been through.
Maybe one day.
I can completely relate to your worries about visiting Israel. I’m very much on the left of politics and visiting Palestine is always something I recommend. You might be interesting in my post on whether it’s a good idea to actually visit Israel.
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We spent some time in Israel (Jerusalem, Haifa) and the West Bank last year and felt pretty safe everywhere. I agree with you – young Israelis walking around with guns is very discomforting.
Yes, the guns are so unnerving! And for many people who live in the region, it must be much more than just uncomfortable to see. Glad you also visited the West Bank during your trip – it’s somewhere I always recommend to see for yourself
Great blog post! I’m currently tossing up the idea of an Israel-Jordan trip. Do you have any advice on boarder crossings? I’ve read that an Israeli stamp in your passport can block you out of many Muslim countries for future travel; Jordan seems to be excluded from this list. Is this something that is better to do with some sort of organized tour?
Israel no longer stamps passports on entry – you receive a small paper visa which you have to keep with you. Definitely makes it easier to avoid any hassle with immigration to other countries. Just be certain to pay attention to exit stamps from other countries if you cross by land.
Here’s my post about the Jordan River Crossing from Israel to Jordan – which is completely possible to do on your own and not on a tour. I’ve also crossed from Taba to Eilat and Eilat to Aqaba by land—always on my own—and without trouble.
i agree about israel is unsafe to visit and considered as one of the most dangerous country. because israel always took up arms against the palestin and hostile
Israel is a dangerous world knows what they did to Palestine
Is Neve Kfir a safe area? It’s in south west Israel. I want to rent an apartment there for one month. It’s like 790 dollars. Btw how much money in shekels should I bring for a one month trip? I’m trying to go on a budget if you know what I mean lol